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U.S. Supreme Court ruling on mandatory life sentences for juveniles might have implications for three Pierce County killers

Post by Adam Lynn / The News Tribune on June 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm with 13 Comments »
June 25, 2012 12:27 pm

Three men sentenced to life without parole for their roles in two notorious Pierce County killings might qualify for lighter sentences thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued today.

The nation’s high court, in a 5-4 decision, declared unconstitutional mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of murder.

The majority said such sentences violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments” because children inherently are less culpable than adults for the crimes they commit. Children also have a “heightened capacity for change” that might merit a second chance, Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the majority opinion.

A quick review of The News Tribune’s archives showed at least three convicted killers who might qualify for relief under the ruling:

• Barry Massey and Michael Harris, who were 13 and 15 respectively when they stabbed, shot and robbed Steilacoom store owner Paul Wang in January 1987. Both were tried as adults, convicted of aggravated first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release.

• John Phet, who was 16 when he took part in the infamous Trang Dai massacre in Tacoma in 1998. He was convicted of five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and sentenced to life without.

Massey’s attorney, Beth Colgan, told Lights & Sirens this morning she’d not had a chance to review the ruling or analyze what it might mean for her client.

We hope to talk to Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist later today about the ramifications of the ruling.

You can read the American Bar Association article on the opinion here.

Leave a comment Comments → 13
  1. Ortingmom says:

    Somehow the criminals become the victims in our messed up judicial system. This is terrible news

  2. cclngthr says:

    Is it cruel and unusual punishment for the victims to suffer death due to bratty kids murdering them?

    Some people need to be locked up for life.

  3. A hundred year sentence should due the trick, instead.

  4. A hundred year sentence should do the trick, instead.

  5. GeronimoV says:

    If Justice were not blind and impartial, it would be one-sided and emotional. Then it would not be just, it would be vengeful. One hundred years without parole would be equally cruel and unusual for children, even bad ones.

  6. Raevyn67 says:

    There are aggrevating circumstances that fully attribute life in prison w/o parole (death in my opinion, even for minors, but that was deemed Cruel and Unusual years ago). Near my hometown two teenagers planned, in detail, and then filmed their brutal stabbing of one of their friends. An act in the heat of the moment is, legally speaking, more forgiveable than an act which has malice aforethought. So, with this ruling, Draper and Adamcik (the convicted murderers I’m referring to) will appeal their sentences and be re-sentenced – when just months ago Adamcik was denied his appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court on this same issue – that life in prison is a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. Interesting. I’m sure the families of the victims are so pleased.

  7. cclngthr says:

    Raevyn67,
    I feel certain sentences are deserving for certain crimes, including a history of certain crimes.

    What the US Supreme Court did was place the criminal above the victim.

  8. Rational says:

    “heightened capacity for change” translates into them being older, better armed and more psychotic than before. Don’t give ‘em life, execute them ASAP.

  9. The SCOTUS said “mandatory” life without is unconstitutional. The two consolidated cases involved teens who were sentenced to life without because it was mandatory under state law (Alabama and Arkansas), meaning no discretion for the judge to consider mitigating factors for the defendants.

    What this article is missing is the critical fact: were WA’s juvenile killers sentenced under a “mandatory” scheme that did not give the judge an opportunity to consider a lesser sentence? If the judges had discretion to impose a different sentence, today’s SCOTUS ruling doesn’t speak to their situation.

  10. Barry Massey should never have been declined on & tried as an adult. If you’d studied the trial transcripts & his background (like I did for a juvenile justice class), I think your opinion would be the same.
    A 13 yr old with the impaired development of a 6-7 yr old; the prosecutors & courts used him just like the older juvenile did. Can the damage the years in an adult prison be repaired now? My prayers and thoughts are with & for him and his family; as well as the marina owner’s loved ones too. It’s a sad, sad, case.

  11. bobcat1a says:

    Anybody claiming this is a “christian nation” should read these posts. That would end such a claim.

  12. GeronimoV says:

    This never has been or should be a “Christian nation”. We were deliberately planned and founded to be a secular nation, with church and state separate. Not equal. But “Christians” have no monopoly on heartlessness.

  13. They just have to be eligible for parole. They don’t necessarily have to be granted parole. We just need a parole board with enogh integrity to deny parole to wild animals.

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